TiVo loses its MoJo

Pop-up ads, DRM lock-down coming soon

Time shifting DVR pioneer TiVo will soon display pop-up ads when users attempt to skip commercials, the LA Times reports today. TiVo owners will still be able to fast forward, but will be forced to watch a billboard style ad on screen.

It's the latest in a series of compromises that threaten to leave the highly-regarded company offering little more than a generic set-top box UI.

Increasingly broadcasters are introducing restrictions on their programming. In recent weeks HBO announced that it will be locking down all its content to a specific device from next June, forbidding any copies to be made.

TiVo's jumped the gun, introducing similar copy controls on pay-per-view and VoD programming. TiVo general counsel Matthew Zinn defended the company's decision to incorporate potentially more restrictive DRM from his provider Macrovision, and acknowledged it was "a slippery slope".

"I think content owners are beginning to recognize that if you make things too restrictive, then consumers will find nonlegal ways to achieve what they want," he claimed. There's no evidence on offer to support this position, but plenty of evidence that, faced with ineffective political lobbying by the computer industry which has failed to alert an apathetic public, the freedom to copy material for personal use will disappear without too many objections.

Did TiVo ever stand a chance? Time shifting functionality, like many conventional computer innovations, turns out to be a feature of an existing product rather than a horizontal industry in itself (PodCasters, please note), and time shifting is now being built into newer TV sets. Nor were cable providers ever really likely to give control of something as strategic as the UI - and TiVo's is warmly regarded as the best - to a third party.

The company has an alliance with NetFlix to serve VoD to broadband-equipped households, and there's plenty of scope for this alliance to prosper. It might rue that with more effective lobbying from the computer industry, or digital rights advocates, it might have made good on its initial promise. ®

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